Improvements to U.S. 119 in Letcher County will probably be completed between Oven Fork and Partridge before any work starts on the stretch that begins at Pine Mountain Junction in Whitesburg and ends near Jenkins.
Meanwhile, work is at standstill on a project that would make access into Jenkins from U.S. 23 much easier via KY 805.
Those were the messages delivered this week by two state highway department officials addressing the Whitesburg Rotary Club during the club’s weekly luncheon at Pine Mountain Grill. Addressing the Rotarians were engineers Steve Green, construction supervisor, and Christopher James, design supervisor, for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s District 12 office in Pikeville.
Green updated the audience about the ongoing $94 million project to rebuild the 7.1-mile section of U.S. 119 from KY 3404 near Partridge to KY 932 at Oven Fork, often referred to as the “valley floor,” and other projects in Letcher County.
According to Green, the project between Oven Fork and Partridge was divided into five construction sections with work nearly complete on four of them. The fourth section, which includes the construction of at least five bridges over the Upper Cumberland River, is a short stretch that begins 0.1 mile west of Brown Branch and ends 0.15 mile west of KY 806 at Oven Fork is under contract for $21.2 million with Bizzack Construction of Lexington and is to be completed by August 2017.
Green said that when the entire project is finished it will have cost $13.3 million per mile to construct, “mostly in earthmoving work.”
“I don’t see how they are making money at that,” Green said, adding that the road construction business is “highly competitive.”
James said the two U.S. 119 projects in Letcher County represent “the last part of Appalachian Corridor [Corridor F] we have left in district,” along with a project to rebuild parts of U.S. 460 in Pike County.
James was referring to the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS), a project born in 1964 after then-President Lyndon B. Johnson started the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The cost of the 3,090 miles of ADHS roads authorized under the program by the ARC are paid for by the federal government. At the time the highway system was authorized, the ARC said it was necessary “to generate economic development in previously isolated areas, supplement the interstate system, connect Appalachia to the interstate system, and provide access to areas within the Region as well as to markets in the rest of the nation.”
James said surveyors will be in the Eolia and Oven Fork area soon as state engineers are now looking a five alternatives for the fifth and final section of the “valley floor.” He said $45 million is available for the project, which will pick up where the current construction ends at Oven Fork and tie in with the existing U.S. 119 on Pine Mountain.
James said the Whitesburg to Jenkins widening and improvement project will also be divided into five sections, a couple of which already have a four-lane road. Construction would begin on the first section, which would begin at Pine Mountain Junction and end at Ermine where a four-lane stretch currently exists.
State Senator Johnny Ray Turner and former Representative Leslie Combs helped obtain $45.55 million in funding for that project last year with plans of securing an additional $92.2 million.
Section Three of the Jenkins to Whitesburg project would start at the end of the four-lane section of U.S. 119 at Mayking and end at Bill Moore Branch, where another stretch of fourlane highway already exists. Section Five would begin at Talman Drive and end at 119’s junction with U.S. 23. James pointed out that little construction would be needed on the sections that are already four-lane.
Green said it would probably take at least two years to finish the design work on the Whitesburg to Jenkins project.
At a current standstill because of state funding cuts is $6.06 million to improve the existing roadway from U.S. 23 into Jenkins (KY 805) to meet current standards and improve congestion between milepoint 8.741 and milepoint 9.247.
James said that project, which is totally state-funded, was halted just before right-of-way purchases were to begin.